*by Grant Newton
An expert on time management offers tips on how to prioritise and minimise stress…
Time available is the same for you that it was for your grandfather. What’s changed is the stuff that we are accruing, the stuff you have to manage. Of course as a business owner when you begin to factor in ‘stuff’ like your staffing issues, customer demands, competitors and how to stay in business the ‘stuff’ becomes an enormous mountain blocking your way to a clear path and professional growth.
Part of what I do involves helping people think about how to manage time and business owners come through my door hoping to be taught how to cram more into their days. Most believe that with a little more discipline, a trick or two and herculean willpower, they can be taught how to fit 26 hours of work into a 15-hour day. Many of my students are in fact, more disciplined and organised than I could ever hope to be. They have scheduling and time crunching down to a fine art. Their days are planned with the Germanic precision a drill master would find impressive. And yet, here they stand, hoping to be told how to do more.
One of the first steps to doing more, and managing your time productively is actually to unplug, switch off, and spend some time not working, not pushing and not trying to get every last drop out of every minute.
The reality is this: discipline and will power are a little like a battery. They run down. They can’t be expected to work at full power forever without re-charging. If you can’t be productive with your time because you are so busy, you need to take a step back. One of the first steps to doing more, and managing your time productively is actually to unplug, switch off, and spend some time not working, not pushing and not trying to get every last drop out of every minute. Turning your brain off, whether to read a book, lie in the bath, go for a run or even to sit quietly staring a wall (what some call meditating, but honestly, it looks like just staring vacantly into space too often for it to be coincidence), allows it to recharge, and empty enough to fill up again.
Where to start?
If you want to be more productive you have to look at how best to prioritise the things you need to do. You need to have a clear understanding of what they are, and then prioritise your list. A great place to start is by asking the question posed by Gary Keller, a leading authority on time management: “What’s the one thing I could do, such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?” What a great way to look at a very complex problem. Naturally once you ask and can answer this question, it gives you a clear understanding of what’s important on that extensive to-do list. The impact, if you are able to identify and then complete your one thing, is profound.
You have to figure out what’s distracting you and stop it. Sometimes you’re more effective if you can figure out what needs to be put down, rather than picked up.
Once you have identified your priority items and begun to work; you will need to focus. I don’t mean the obvious ‘just pay attention’, but focussing with intent. Which brings me to my last point.
More and more research is showing that multi-tasking is a dangerous myth, with the dilution of focus on one activity at a time leading to an increase of up to 40% in the time it takes to complete that task (at least among knowledge workers). It’s easy to tell someone to focus and not multi-task, but where do you start?
You have to figure out what’s distracting you and stop it. Sometimes you’re more effective if you can figure out what needs to be put down, rather than picked up. Email is a great example. You may be in the middle of reading a budget report, when the little mail icon in the bottom of your screen pops up. It’s distracting, you can’t help it. Is it that important mail you’ve been waiting for? Or maybe the urgent sales pricing from Karabo? Already you have broken concentration. It takes up to 15 minutes for a knowledge worker to get back into the flow of what they were doing before they were distracted. So you have to figure out what’s distracting you and then take steps to remove the distraction.
I love the idea of flow time. A regular hour or so where you close email, turn off phones and work on things that will go much faster, and be of a much higher quality, if you can give them your utmost attention. Once flow time is over by all means get back to the daily ‘stuff’ that fills your time, knowing that you’ve been more productive for that period than at any other time in your day.
*Grant Newton has been in the training industry since 1996 and has trained across all levels within organisations, feeling most comfortable working with mid- and senior level management. Visit: www.avovision.co.za.